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US Official Says Chavez Economic Policies Unsustainable

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Wednesday the populist economic policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are not sustainable and eventually will fail. Negroponte begins a four-nation Latin American trip next week. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Negroponte will visit Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama on a five-day mission likely to be at least partly devoted to seeking a joint approach to the latest moves by the Venezuelan leader.

Mr. Chavez in recent days has increased verbal attacks on the Bush administration and its friends in the hemisphere, and taken steps to further nationalize his country's oil industry and cut ties with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In State Department remarks Wednesday to the Council of the Americas, a business group aimed at promoting regional trade, Negroponte said the targets of Mr. Chavez' rhetoric should not, as he put it, "rise to the bait" but rather respond in a careful and measured way.

He said the United States should try to develop a common approach with other regional democracies on the situation in Venezuela, which he suggested is heading for serious difficulties because of Mr. Chavez' policies.

"The government and people of Venezuela are going to find that the policies that Mr. Chavez is expending his monies on are simply not going to be sustainable," he said. "I don't see how you can go on promising literally billions of dollars of aid to other countries while you have blatant poverty in your own country, while at the same time you're running down if you will, degrading, the wealth-producing portions of your economy which I believe he's doing. So sooner or later, these policies will fail."

Negroponte's trip will be his first to Latin America since he assumed the number-two State Department job in February, after serving in the cabinet-level post of national intelligence director.

He told the business group here the mission will be in furtherance of what the U.S. administration has declared as a "year of engagement" with the hemisphere that began with the trip by President Bush to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico in March.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make her own trip to the area in the coming weeks, and in June she will host a conference of Caribbean leaders.

Negroponte said a key aim of his trip next week will be to promote proposed free-trade agreements between the United States and Colombia, Panama and Peru. He said U.S. trade with the three countries has nearly doubled over the last four years to an annual combined volume of nearly $30 billion.